CU education majors ahead of curve

CEDARVILLE — Before COVID-19 made online education the only way for students to learn, Cedarville University education majors were learning how to teach in an online environment from virtual mentors.

Dr. Jeremy Ervin, associate professor of education, introduced online educator mentoring at Cedarville two years ago. Rebecca Traeger, director of teacher education services, and Dr. Tianhong Zhang, assistant professor of education, now administer the program, which partners with 15 mentor teachers at Ohio Connections Academy and four mentor teachers at the Ohio Virtual Academy. Both organizations teach students in kindergarten through grade 12.

Cedarville education majors can jump-start their teaching experience through e-learning and online educator mentoring as early as freshman and sophomore year. They are prepared to integrate educational technology through teaching in diverse contexts.

In a world where virtual education has become more the norm because of the coronavirus pandemic, the move to train students in this format was providential.

“Christian teachers need to rethink how they can integrate educational technology into a faith-based vision of education,” Zhang said. “Christian teachers, like any competent professional, need opportunities to keep abreast of these curricular and instructional innovations.”

Students complete a semester-long integration project as part of their field experience, which allows them to work closely with their mentor teacher. They are required to spend 15 hours observing an online live classroom, learning how teachers instruct in that type of environment.

Cedarville education majors learn how to teach content that is uploaded online, teach students when they don’t see them every day, organize their teaching content and manage their time when trying to condense content into a 50-minute virtual class. This online class structure requires that teachers stick with a closely followed plan that doesn’t permit as much flexibility as a physical classroom would.

One of the challenges for parents during the pandemic has been knowing how to work with online teachers to help their students grow from the virtual experience.

“In the physical classroom, parents typically have no problem understanding what is going on,” Zhang said. “But in the online classroom, the teachers also have to teach parents how to have their children engage with the online context.”

Education majors have found the online teacher mentoring experience enlightening and helpful. Allison May, a sophomore early childhood education major from Michigan, learned how to structure an online class for second graders alongside her mentor teacher, Meghan Kinat, from Ohio Connections Academy.

For Mary Kronk, a sophomore early childhood education major from West Jefferson, it was helpful to speak with a mentor teacher who had taught in a brick-and-mortar school and then transitioned to an online classroom.

“It was interesting to see how my mentor teacher made the lessons engaging and interesting for students,” Kronk said. “Ultimately putting the students and their learning first and ordering the class in a way that promotes this enriched my own understanding of what it means to be a teacher.”